Upper Canada: The Formative Years, 1784-1841

By Gerald M. Craig | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
Conservatives and Rebels 1836-37

I

At the end of 1835 the British government concluded that a powerful movement of political discontent had arisen in Upper Canada and that it represented majority opinion in the province. As embodied in the reform party, that movement had captured the Assembly in 1834 and in the Seventh Grievance Report had called for sweeping changes in the provincial Constitution, notably an elective legislative council, an executive council responsible to the Assembly, and severe limitations on the lieutenant-governor's control over patronage. In consequence, the Colonial Office believed that redoubled efforts must be made to conciliate provincial opinion. Although demands for fundamental constitutional changes could not be met, every effort must be made to remedy practical grievances if the province was to retain its British allegiance. It was in this spirit that instructions were written to Sir Francis Bond Head, Colborne's successor, in December 1835.

On the other hand, it was the view of the Family Compact that the British government wholly misjudged the political state of Upper Canada. The leaders of the Compact believed that conservative forces in the province were far stronger than the forces of innovation, and that they would prevail if given firm leadership and provided with unwavering support from London. Although the political scene was in fact chaotic, and subject to wild fluctuations, the Compact leaders were correct in placing a high estimate on the strength of the conservative forces.

To be sure, there had been a time in the early 1830's when the Compact leaders were seized with the darkest pessimism. The reform spirit in Britain raised the danger, in their minds, that the mother country might cut loose from its moorings and sail out into the uncharted seas of innovation and even anarchy. They believed that the Whig government's policy of conciliating the colonies encouraged agitators to redouble their efforts. In Lower Canada the campaign led by Papineau not only slowed economic progress in the two provinces but threatened the very existence of British rule. In

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